Keynote: popular music studies / jazz studies #iaspm2017

André Doehring: Institute for Jazz Research, University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria

Fish and fowl? Mapping the no-man’s-land between popular music studies and jazz studies

 

louis-armstrong3.jpg
Louis Armstrong stated many times that he loved Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians. Was he more open-minded than some jazz and pop musicologists? [spoiler: yes]
OUTLINE: In his article ‘Is jazz popular music?”, Simon Frith (2007: 10) has noticed that the “separation of jazz and popular music studies is an indisputable fact of academic life”. Indeed, due to their historically different developments, both disciplines have established sets of aesthetic norms, separate institutional bases, and specific methods to identify and cope with the musics they have found worth studying. Recently, Matt Brennan (2017) has shown the influence of music journalism on these scholarships. Ultimately, both succeeded – more (jazz studies) or less (popular music studies), at least in the German-speaking world – as distinctive disciplines with developed curricula. 

This keynote argues, by pointing to examples throughout the history of recorded music, that this neat division of the musical world is precarious because it prevents a fertile exchange between jazz and popular music studies; for instance, the development of (still) so-called New Jazz Studies during the last twenty years has only occasionally led to serious discussion in the popular music field. Moreover, this separation excludes a lot of musics, musicking and musicians in between these two fields. In particular, by using an example from the realm of electronic dance music, the lecture advocates a joint effort to fill the void in between the front lines of jazz and popular music that, potentially, may lead to structural changes in teaching and researching jazz and popular music.

REFERENCES:

BIO: André Doehring is professor for jazz and popular music research and head of the Institute for Jazz Research at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz (Austria). Before, he has been assistant professor at the University of Gießen (Germany) where he received his doctorate in musicology and had studied musicology and sociology. He is president of the International Society for Jazz Studies (IGJ), member of the scientific board of the German Society for Popular Music Studies (GfPM), co-editor of GfPM’s online journal Samples and since 2017 of IGJ’s yearbook Jazz Research and Studies in Jazz Research. His main research topics are the social histories and historiographies of popular music and jazz, analysis, and music and media. Currently, he is involved into establishing a European network for transnational jazz studies.

PUBLICATIONS: Song Interpretations in 21st Century Pop Music (Eds. Appen/Doehring/Helms/Moore, Ashgate, 2015); “Andrés’s ‘New For U’ – new for us. On analysing electronic dance music” (Ashgate 2015); “Modern Talking, musicology and I: analysing the forbidden fruit” (Routledge 2016); “Male journalists as ‘artists’: the ideological production of recent popular music journalism” (Éditions des Archives Contemporaines 2017).

[with apologies to André for not hearing the start due to background noise as people came in]

André laments the relative historical disinclination of academe to be prepared to engage musicologically with pop and jazz. He states that there is still a percentage bias against non-classical musics, citing as evidence the tiny proportion of popular (as opposed to classic) musicology professorships in German universities. He leads us through the history of some pioneers, including Marshall Stearns, who founded the Institute for Jazz Studies in 1953 New Jersey, USA.  We are led through the gradual growth of jazz studies in (mainly US) Higher Education from the 1950s onward.

Vesta Tilley and the 19th-century music industry in the UK #iaspm2017

Nancy Bruseker: Independent scholar

How to find out more about the 19th-century music business in the UK

Tilley
Vesta Tilley (1864-1952), in and out of drag (source – Wikipedia).

ABSTRACT: Technological advances in music distribution have radically changed business and audience practices and the way music itself is made by musicians. However, these technological developments affect not only music being made and sold today. Modern technological advances have made sources like historical newspapers and genealogical records more accessible, allowing researchers the opportunity to begin to reconstruct musical lives and musical worlds beyond the 20th century, including ones that predate recorded sound. This paper uses sources like the British Library’s 19th century newspaper archive, the British Newspaper Archive, Ancestry and Digimaps historic maps, to reconstruct one British music hall performer’s, Vesta Tilley’s, touring schedule across five decades – 1870s to the 1910s – in order to show what a music industry structured around live performance, rather than record production, looked like. The data allows an extensive view into Vesta’s working and touring life: how often she was on tour, how far she went, and how her work patterns changed from childhood to adulthood to retirement, and how her repertoire interacted with these developments. In brief, without an album release schedule it was relentless. Furthermore, the data illustrates how a large number of independent venues gradually gave way to a series of syndicates (Moss, Stoll, De Frece, and others), changing the shape of the tour, providing us a view of the birth of the equivalent of the 21st century Academy circuit in the UK: the evolution of the business of entertainment up to the earliest days of sound recording.

Nancy starts by outlining that her research, though historical, is nonetheless digitally powered, and that the 19th century music industry might have much to tell us about how later music industry models evolved.

Just for fun? Contemporary Gifting of Music #iaspm2017

Chris Anderton – Southampton Solent University (UK)

Just for the fun of it? Contemporary Strategies for Making, Distributing and Gifting Music

Album cover
Ben Sharp aka Cloudkicker is a prolific independent artist whose work is freely downloadable.

ABSTRACT: Technological developments in home recording and internet distribution mean that it is now easier than ever before for musicians both to create music and to distribute it to the public for a relatively minimal financial outlay. The traditional economic relations and structures of the recording and copyright industries may largely be bypassed through processes of disintermediation, and musicians have much greater control over their own recorded works than is typically afforded by the commercial recording companies. Many musicians have adopted alternative strategies for making their music available to the public, and it is one broad subset of these musicians that this paper will focus on. These musicians make their music available for free download/streaming through sites such as Bandcamp, Free Music Archive and the Internet Archive, or directly through their own websites. In some cases, the music is released through collective Netlabels and Creative Commons licences, while at other times, copyright is retained and the music is made available on a ‘name your price’ basis with no minimum amount specified. This article will use Jacques Attali’s notion of the ‘Age of Composition’ as a starting point for considering the strategies of these musicians and their relationships with traditional models of music making and distribution.

Chris opens with a description of the opportunities afforded in recent years to independent artists by internet-based distribution technologies. Our first example is Mery Ann (Spain), the artist name for Maria Aguilar, the co-owner of Zodiac Musick, a now-defunct netlabel that was in existence between 2003 and around 2015. Mery Ann’s work is retro 80s synth electronica [my reference points are vaguely Tangerine Dream and Georgio Moroder]. Chris reads an excerpt from the label’s radical mission statement: 

Latin-American popular music: “Paraguay Purahei” #iaspm2017

Gabriel S. S. Lima Rezende – UNILA (Brazil)

The problem of Latin-American popular music: an analysis of “Paraguay Purahei” album (2014)

Paraguay Purahei.jpgABSTRACT: This paper aims to discuss the problem of modernization of popular Latin American music genres from the analysis of “Paraguay Purahei” (2014), the first CD released by the eponymous trio. The theoretical framework that defines the approach belongs to the field of sociology of music, specifically the branch that takes the sound-musical materiality as an essential dimension of social analysis. As part of a broader research on the problem of modernization in popular musics of Latin-America, this proposal focuses on the analysis of the phonograms that constitute the CD mentioned above whereby the effort to understand the meaning of the “modernizing action” is established. This action configures itself in the intertwining of the choice of repertoire, composed exclusively by referential pieces of the traditional repertoire of Paraguay’s popular music, with the compositional-performative procedures used in the treatment of the traditional material. Understanding the meaning of this action implies the identification of idiomatic elements that link the chosen pieces to the traditional repertoire, the types of procedures used in redesigning this traditional material, and the interpretation of how these are interlaced.

Blame It on the Boogie – criteria for good pop music? #iaspm2017

Presenter: Dirk Stederoth – Universität Kassel, Institut für Philosophie

Mick Jackson
Mick Jackson, who wrote and released the original version of Blame It On The Boogie in 1978.

ABSTRACT: The presentation focuses on the question of whether there are criteria for measuring the quality of a pop song that go beyond the scope of a mere musical structural analysis. As many examples demonstrate, such structural analysis, which, according the criteria thereof, is derived from the aesthetic study of classical art music, offers rather unsatisfactory results when applied to pop music. In addition, it is questionable whether harmonic or rhythmic complexity, for example, is even a suitable criterion for the analysis of pop music. Against the background of this problematic situation, the presentation proposes an approach based on musical aesthetics, which assumes a fundamental tension between ideational musical structures and their categories (tonality, rhythmicity/the study of meter and composition) as well as the realization of music. The thesis of this approach proposes that pop music can not so much be considered from the structural perspective of this debate but instead from the perspective of realization. However, studying pop music for the perspective of realization requires comparable categories. These categories in the presentation at hand are sound, groove and performance. After this approach has been presented, I will also apply these categories of realization by means of a comparative analysis of the two versions of the pop song “Blame It on the Boogie” by Mick Jackson and The Jackson Five in order to establish the heuristic value of these categories.

Dirk opens his presentation with these historically concurrent versions of ‘Blame It On The Boogie’. We hear The Jacksons’ more famous version, then the earlier German version by original songwriter ‘Mick Jackson’ (no relation). Dirk tells the apocryphal story of how the song was discovered at the MIDEM show in the 1970s, and then immediately debunks this legend, stating that it was actually a more straightforward publishing deal because The Jacksons needed a more successful hit than their previous one.

Close to the Edge: investigating songwriting’s ‘plagiarism threshold’

Joe Bennett, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

[Presented at IASPM 2017, 26 June 2017]

Wicked.png
Stephen Schwartz’s score for ‘Wicked’ quotes 7 pitches from ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’… but does it infringe a copyright?

Here is the abstract, with references, for the academic paper I presented at the IASPM 2017 conference in Kassel, Germany. At the moment it’s just abstract, slides and references. If it ever turns into a full paper I’ll upload it to this website with the rest.

Abstract: The songwriter Stephen Schwartz once described his ‘Unlimited Theme’ (from ‘Wicked’) as a musical joke, using as it does the first seven pitches from ‘Over The Rainbow’.Schwartz believed that by limiting the number of copied pitches, he was evading an accusation of plagiarism. Schwartz’s belief in a legally defined plagiarism threshold represents a common misconception among musicians; there is a similarly widespread myth that copyright law permits a specific number of seconds of audio sampling (this has explicitly been contradicted in US case law). But borrowing and adaptation is a common form of creativity, and there is a real risk that if creators misidentify the line between influence and plagiarism, they might either inhibit their own creative freedoms, or inadvertently infringe copyright. This paper discusses the mythical plagiarism threshold, using examples from copyright case law, interviews with creators, and comparative analysis of musically similar works to explore the question “how much is too much”?

Download pdf of slides (or click image below)

Slides

References:

  • Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 383 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 2004)’. Harvard Law Review 118 (4): 1355–62. doi:10.2307/4093384.
  • Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond. 2017. ‘Seeing Is Believing: The Ongoing Significance of Symbolic Representations of Musical Works in Copyright Infringement Disputes’. Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2967590.
  • Demers, Joanna. 2006. Steal This Music – How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity. Athens : University of Georgia Press,.
  • Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)
  • Schwartz, Stephen. 2004. Wicked’s Musical Themes Interview by Carol de Giere. http://www.musicalschwartz.com/wicked-musical-themes.htm.
  • Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton 212 F.3d 477. 2000 477. 9th Cir.

 

Wayfair, you’ve got just the soundalikes I need

Friends, musicians and soundmen (and women) – lend me your ears. Here are some Wayfair TV commercials in a playlist – let me know (Twitter @joebennettmusic) what songs you think they’re using as a template for the music. Disclosure – this is for academic research, not copyright/client work.

[Health warning – these ads have a level of cheesy catchiness that may be difficult to cure once acquired.]

 

Eurovision 2017 : live blog

1280px-eurovision_song_contest_2017_logo-svg

Next morning: the results

[edit – posted the next morning, Sunday 13th May 2017]

  1. Portugal
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Moldova
  4. Belgium
  5. Sweden
  6. Italy

My predictions were:

  1. Portugal (correct!)
  2. Italy (actually 6th)
  3. Sweden (actually 5th)
  4. (or 5.) Bulgaria (actually 2nd)

Not my best year so far, but not my worst either.

  • Successfully predicted the winner (Portugal)
  • All my top 3 were in the top 6
  • I was too snarky about the Moldovans (though I maintain it’s a terrible song)
  • I was right to stick up for plucky Bulgaria
  • The voters liked Belgium’s misery-fest more than I did
  • Italy might have scored higher but apparently self-sabotaged their performance on the night with a dancing gorilla.

[———–edit ends———–]

[original pre-live blog below, with videos embedded]

Predictions

[Written at at 9:14pm GMT on May 13th 2017, before voting begins]

  1. Portugal
  2. Italy
  3. Sweden

(Bulgaria also somewhere in the top 5)

How to use this blog entry

When the show begins, scroll down to the first performer (Israel) and read the text live along with the show, or just watch the videos. Intro

Welcome to the 2017 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its seventh year. This site has provided live music analysis of the ESC final every year since 2011, previously during the UK live broadcast. Since 2016, the text has been written from Boston USA, 5 hours behind UK time and 7 hours behind the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev.

The Contest is now broadcast in the US, which would be a 3pm start time here, but the final usually (as this year) coincides with my students’ Commencement. So blog will still be ‘pre-live’, but the comments and predictions are published an hour or so ahead of the live broadcast of the final. This means I’m working from the published running order and watching the videos on the ESC website. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.

As before, I’ve posted predictions of the winners before the voting begins. 2015 is the only year so far that all three were correct, and in the correct order, but I’ve gotten close with the top few most of the time.

 

Live blog

(scroll down along with the show, or if you’re reading this after the show has ended, watch the videos)

1 Israel – IMRI – I feel alive

Lots of builds here, harmonically and dynamically. The whole song form is three big ramps; the first is from the intro through verse 1 to the end of chorus 1; the second from verse 2 to the end of chorus 2; then a drop bridge, with a final ramp to the end. There are really two 8-bar pre-choruses, both of which use the chorus chord loop of Ab | Cm | Bb | Fm – so you get the feeling of chorusyness two, arguably three times. The song could be called ‘breaking me to pieces’ and have a perfectly good chorus, but when he hits the high autotuned C note on the title’s “I feel alive”. I’m typing this based on the video – so for those watching it live, see how they manage that high falsetto note. His ability to hit it (or mime convincingly to it as a ‘backing’ vocal) could affect the score bigly. Sorry, typing this from America.

51%

[ABSTRACT] Appropriation and Copyrightability in Music Copyright

I Hate These Blurred Lines: Wrongful Appropriation and Copyrightability in Music Copyright

Academic/copyright post: here’s an abstract (pdf) of a paper that I’ll be presenting with Prof Wendy Gordon next week at Boston University Law School.

James Newton
Flautist and composer James Newton, whose work ‘Choir’ was sampled by the Beastie Boys in’ ‘Pass The Mic’.

This is based in part on an earlier paper that we presented at the Art of Record Production Conference in Aalborg, Denmark in December 2016, a draft of which is embedded below with voiceover and music examples. As this is an academic paper about music copyright, it contains musical excerpts from the original audio recording. My first attempt to embed the video resulted in an automatic takedown (academic fair use YouTube dispute is in progress), so I’m trying again with a Screencast embed. Because the video represents commentary and (not for profit) academic research, I’m continuing to claim fair use. Let’s see how long the audio survives!

Abstract: We have two concerns with music infringement trials: The first concern is the process by which juries decide questions of whether a defendant copied too much from a plaintiff’s work. (This is the inquiry sometimes known as “wrongful appropriation” or “substantial similarity”.) This paper discusses the challenges of methodology in forensic musicology, and the musical and psychological difficulties of applying the ‘substantial similarity’ test fairly and objectively. (Bonadio, 2016; Gordon, 2015). We present an analysis of three disputes, with comparative audio examples – The Isley Brothers/Michael Bolton (2001); Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams/Marvin Gaye (2015); and Randy California/Led Zeppelin (2016).
Our second concern addresses copyright classifications, in particular, the contested relationship between the creative decisions that give rise to copyrights in “musical works” (compositions) and the creative decisions that give rise to “sound recordings” (sounds as rendered). We suggest that overlap between the two is common and should be better recognized. To illustrate the potential compositional contributions of performers and sound engineers, we utilize audio examples from Newton v. Diamond and other disputes.

Berklee’s Fair Music report

music20in20the20digital20ageMy first full session today at the CMS conference is presented by Berklee faculty members Peter Alhadeff and Luiz Augusto Buff. They are, today, analysing and critiquing Berklee’s Fair Music Report.

Peter begins with some caveats; he comments that the report deals particularly with the recording industry (and does not cover other music industries – e.g. live music and music education).  Second, he notes the support from Kobalt Music, whom he notes are a very particular type of publisher, with a particular interest in digital and many very large-scale song catalogues in their portfolios.

Eurovision 2016 live blog

t1_2016[Next morning]

OK so I got two of the top three, and predicted Australia’s placing, but I underestimated the power of Jamala’s vocal, or perhaps the political impact of the lyric of 1944.

THE WINNERS

  1. Ukraine
  2. Australia
  3. Russia

THE PREDICTIONS

  1. Russia
  2. Australia
  3. France

ORIGINAL PRE-LIVE BLOG

What exactly did ‘Stairway to Heaven’ copy from ‘Taurus’?

And my Spirit is crying…

As mentioned in a previous post, the question of whether Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven (1971) copies a part of Spirit’s Taurus (1968) may soon be settled.

Representatives of the late Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) are claiming that the four-bar introduction section of Stairway To Heaven copies a substantial part of his 1968 instrumental composition Taurus.

Judge Gary Klausner stated that a jury should be used, because the matter in question is necessarily subjective: “while it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure […] What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works”.

So let’s compare the works – how similar are they? 

Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven

Led ZeppelinSo the Stairway to Heaven / Taurus controversy was back in the news yesterday, due to the fact that the dispute is to go to a jury in the US in May this year. I participated in a panel discussion about this a couple of years back for a Russian radio station.

In the next couple of days I’ll post proper transcriptions of the two with audio and some discussion points. For now, here’s an interview I did yesterday with BBC Radio 5 live, discussing the songs with presenters Sarah Brett and Ore Oduba.

Did Sam Smith copy ‘Earth Song’ in ‘Writing’s On The Wall’?

Sam SmithI was interviewed this week by the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper about the alleged similarities between Sam Smith’s new James Bond movie theme song ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ and Michael Jackson’s Earth Song. This blog post is a more detailed version of that analysis.

[If you’re wondering why The Carpenters appear in the above playlist, all will be explained shortly].

Lots of people around the web have been pointing out that the end of WOTW’s verse makes them want to go straight into the chorus of MJ’s ‘Earth Song’, and on listening to the tracks it’s easy to hear what they mean. It’s interesting, though, that although the ‘feeling’ of the end of WOTW’s verse is reminiscent of Earth Song for some listeners, there are only actually three notes that have the exact same pitch – and these notes are not placed at the same point in the bar.

The songs are in different keys – Earth Song is in Ab minor and WOTW is in F minor. When comparing melodies, it’s helpful to ‘normalise’ this difference by notating both songs in the same key, so that any similarities or differences are more visually apparent. Here’s the comparative/normalised transcription.

Earth Song (top) vs Writing's On The Wall (bottom), normalised to Ab minor for comparison purposes. No two notes line up perfectly, and yet the similarity is apparent to many people.
Earth Song (top) vs Writing’s On The Wall (bottom), normalised to Ab minor for comparison purposes. No two notes line up perfectly, and yet the similarity is apparent to many people (click image for a larger version).

So, if there are no notes that are exactly the same (in terms of pitch, rhythmic placement and harmonic context), why are so many listeners crying foul?

There are two areas of apparent similarity. The phrases in the penultimate bar of each song’s verse, highlighted in the red rectangle above, both have 8 syllables and have similar rhythmic scansion (and there’s no more use in runnin’ / did you ever stop to notice). But the section that everyone is talking about is the rising phrase ending on a B flat note (this is something I gotta face / this crying Earth this weeping shore?). These respective phrases, although they have only three pitches in common (with different rhythmic placement), give an impression of similarity because of the way the phrase ascends to the strong Bb note, with the same underlying dominant chord (in the normalised key of Abm, Eb major).

The songs also feature what we might call ‘surface similarities’ – that is, aspects of the arrangement or performance that appear in many other songs, but are combined in each work in the same way. They are both sung in the higher register of the male voice; they are performed at a similar tempo (Earth Song is around 6BPM and Writing’s On The Wall is around 65BPM). They are also both have a sweeping, epic quality and a lyric where the protagonist expresses some form of regret. There are of course many songs that feature these elements, but in combination they contribute to a subjective impression of similarity.

There is one other fragment of similarity, and interestingly listeners don’t seem to have picked this up to the same extent, despite the notes lining up exactly. WOTW’s chorus drops down dynamically at [01:28] and at this point the phrase ‘how do I breathe’ has the equivalent notes, syllable count and rhythmic scansion as bar 2 of Earth Song’s verse ‘what about rain’ [0:51 in the full length version]. The rhythms for this four-note section are identical, with identical pitches of Eb, Db, Cb and Db. The underlying chord on beat 3 is different, but the melodic similarity, for a brief moment, may be apparent to the listener. Here’s the relevant section, key-normalised as before.

Earth Song (excerpt from verse 1 at [0:51] shares a four-note melodic phrase with Writing's On The Wall (chorus 1, from [01:28]), albeit with different harmonic context on the half-bar.
Earth Song (excerpt from verse 1 at [0:51] shares a four-note melodic phrase with Writing’s On The Wall (chorus 1, from [01:28]), albeit with different harmonic context on the half-bar.
But methodology is all in comparative music analysis, and it can be abused. If you look hard enough, and work with small enough fragments, you can find similarity everywhere. In the Spotify playlist above, listen to the strings intro in WOTW followed by the first verse of Superstar by the Carpenters. Three notes of G, F and C below, in an F minor tonality. Coincidence? Er, yes.

Music analysis can only highlight the similarities and differences; it’s impossible to see inside the mind of a songwriter, and any accusation of melodic plagiarism usually has to demonstrate quite a high level of similarity between the works. There are melody similarities between WoTW and ES but there are also many differences; these melodic fragments and production/arrangement choices will certainly have appeared in other songs. Which leads us to the really interesting question – if no musical elements are identical, but the combinations of elements are similar enough to invoke allusion to an earlier work, might we describe the act of combining those elements as creative? Can composing consist simply of bringing together pre-existing ideas? Might we characterise all creativity in this way? (Arthur Koestler thought so).

Were Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes influenced by Michael Jackson? Quite probably – many great pop songwriters are. Would they have been familiar with Earth Song? Almost certainly – it was a worldwide hit and remains a classic. But is this an example of deliberate plagiarism? I’m not so sure. It depends on what you mean by ‘original’.

And what you mean by ‘composing’.

And what you mean by ‘copying’.


Copyright note for transcription excerpts: I claim fair dealing exceptions for the purposes of research, criticism, review and news reporting. 

A day in the life of music listening

Boston skyline
Boston: view of the Charles River and city skyline

I was recently invited to write a blog piece for ‘Harkive‘, a music/sociology data collection project run by Craig Hamilton at City University Birmingham. He conducts a survey for one day per year, collecting qualitative data about music listeners’ habits. The aim of Harkive is for people to “share the story of how, where and why they listen to music”. The blog entries are an attempt to add colour to the data, detailing the real-world situations in which we experience music. Here are some examples of previous entries. My contribution is a single ‘day in the life’ of music listening – in this case, my activities on 14th July 2015. I found the act of reflecting on a whole day’s listening (including inadvertent listening) to be a surprising experience – there’s a lot more music around us than I had ever really considered. If you’re interested in contributing to the project here’s the link.

Eurovision 2015 live blogging

Esc2015 logo

[Comment 23:52]

So I got a home run for the first time – the top 3 correctly predicted, and in the right order. See you again next year!


OK here are my predictions, which I’m making at 22:21 before the voting opens. The actual results will be posted here after the voting is complete (and I’ll leave my wrong predictions here for the record).

My predictions 2015 [posted at 22:21]

  • 1st: Sweden
  • 2nd: Russia
  • 3rd: Italy

(I think Cyprus and Serbia could do well (charming melody and self-assertive lyric respectively) but will be further down the ranking)

Actual results 2015 [posted at 23:52}

  • 1st: Sweden
  • 2nd: Russia
  • 3rd: Italy

Sam Smith and Tom Petty – coincidental similarity or accidental copying?

Tom Petty, one-fifth of the co-writing team behind Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’.

This is a blog post about 5 bars of music. As reported in Rolling Stone and The Sun recently, the melodic similarity between Sam Smith’s 2014 song Stay With Me and Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down (1989) resulted in an amicable settlement between the writers and publishers sometime in 2014, resulting in Petty and Jeff Lynne, who originally wrote I Won’t Back Down, receiving a 12.5% share of the royalties. The PRS database in the UK confirms the share (members only access).

And subjectively, the songs are pretty similar, as bloggers had been pointing out since mid-2014.

But everyone was relaxed about the settlement, and Petty issued a  statement to this effect:

About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam.  All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.  Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by.  Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.  The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention.  And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself.  Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this.  A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all. (Petty, 2015)

Here’s the thing. Petty used the term ‘accident’, which one might interpret as meaning the copying of the melody was inadvertent. Sam Smith’s representatives claimed that the similarity was the result of a ‘coincidence’:

Joint Authorship … law and practice in popular music recording #arposlo2014

Joint Authorship, Works-for-Hire, and the Idea/Expression Distinction: The collision of law and practice in popular music recording

Tom Porcello – Vassar College USA

ABSTRACT: This paper examines some of the specific provisions in the US Copyright Law that hinder ascribing joint authorship (and therefore authors’ rights) and performance rights to all parties—performers, producers, songwriters, engineers—in contemporary popular music practices. Taking as its starting point studio practices that might be described as “composition-in-recording,” two areas of US copyright law are considered. The first concerns the particularly strong role of the “work for hire doctrine,” which in effect has the power to appropriate the creative output of individuals, as well as a specific provision in the definition of joint authorship—that the contributions of each author must be independently copyrightable for a work to be considered jointly authored. These two provisions, it is argued, disproportionately hinder broad attribution of authorship in music production. Second, the paper examines the uncomfortable tension between the idea/expression distinction that undergirds US copyright law on the one hand, and the composition/performance distinction that provides different legal rights to composers and performers of musical recordings. Here it is argued that “composition-in-recording” considerably problematizes the validity of assigning different rights to “composers” and “performers” (which is further problematized by the narrow, quotidian definition of what acts constitute studio “performance”). The paper concludes by suggesting some specific changes to the US Copyright Law that could better bring into alignment studio practice and a broader ascription of authorship, as well as some justifications within legal theory for doing so.

Tom’s presentation covers an area that is related to mine – that is, we’re both interested in the relationship between the creative process in popular music recording and the law that governs ownership. Copyright protects ‘expressions of an idea’ rather than an idea itself.

Co-writing songs

Illustration by Andy Watt

This article originally appeared in Total Guitar magazine issue 229. Reproduced by permission. Words: Joe Bennett. Illustration: Andy Watt. Click the image to download a pdf.

There are very few jobs where you promise to give away half your wages before you get to work, but this is what happens when two or more people decide to write a song together. And they do it with good reason; did you know that almost half the number of chart-topping hits in the USA since 1955 were written by more than one person? But if collaboration is clearly an effective way of writing a song, how is it done? How do two brains work together to produce something truly great?